On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we think back to the man that changed the course of history during the Civil Rights Movement and left an impression that we will never forget. Today we reflect on some of the books and their movie counterparts that have been made possible due to our American history and King’s contributions. These unforgettable novels are must-reads on a day like today, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Watch: Eyes on the Prize
Read: Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965
With the production of the documentary came the publication of the book Eyes on the Prize. Both the film and book highlight key events during the Civil Rights Movement through first person narratives and footage from events.
Watch: Mississippi Burning
Read: The Mississippi Burning Case: The History and Legacy of the Freedom Summer Murders at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement
Released in 1988, the film Mississippi Burning narrates the work of two FBI agents investigating the murders of three Civil Rights activists: Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. Although fictional, the film and the book based on the screenplay, are based on true accounts regarding the 1964 murder of the three activists.
Read: Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The film, Boycott, tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott from 1955-1956. The film was based on Stewart Burns’ book Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Burns provides a chronological account of the bus boycotts through primary sources.
Watch: Selma, Lord, Selma
Read: Selma, 1965: The March That Changed the South
Told through the lens of an 11-year-old girl, the film Selma, Lord, Selma, released in 1999, is based on the Bloody Sunday event of 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Charles E. Fager’s book, Selma 1965: The March that Changed the South, highlights key figures and moments leading up to the march. Fager’s books focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Watch: Ruby Bridges
Read: Through My Eyes
Disney’s Ruby Bridges reveals Ruby Bridge’s journey on becoming one of the first Black students in 1960 to integrate a school in New Orleans, LA at the age of six. Bridges’ autobiography, Through my Eyes, goes further into Bridge’s experiences as she recalls the violence and isolation she faced on her first day of school.
Read: Soul on Ice, Eldridge Cleaver
The film Panther focuses on the development of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, highlighting its rise and its downfall through the years. Soul on Ice, is Eldridge Cleaver’s memoir in which he discusses his journey from a troubled adolescent to his involvement in the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Watch: The Ernest Green Story
Read: Warriors Don’t Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High
Both The Ernest Green Story and Warriors Don’t Cry detail the story of the “Little Rock Nine” high school students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, AR in 1957. While the film focuses on Ernest Green’s story, the book focuses on Melba Patillo Beals prospective as one of the students as she describes how they were taunted and threatened by lynch mobs for attending school.
Watch: Behind the Movement
Read: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Both Behind the Movement and The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks emphasize Parks’ actions during the Civil Rights Movement. There is also a focus on how Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. Rosa Parks’ autobiography goes into more detail regarding her life and involvement in the Civil Rights Movement beyond the bus boycotts.
Watch: Freedom Summer
Read: Wednesdays in Mississippi
Freedom Summer, the film, and Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964, provide footage and statistics for the summer of 1964 where activists gathered to register Black people to vote. The book has a larger focus on Black Mississippians and the quest to register Black voters in rural areas of the United States.
Watch: King – TV Miniseries
Read: The Bishop’s Pawn, Steve Berry
Released in 1978, King is a TV miniseries that documented the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., from his time as a minister, to his assassination. Though fictional, Steve Berry’s The Bishop’s Pawn examines the assassination, and the politics, motives, and news around it.
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